By Bogdan Cristel and Matthias Williams
CONSTANTA, Romania (Reuters) - Armed with an iPad and a letter of support from an Oscar-winning film director, Remus Cernea is pushing a cause that he acknowledges few of his fellow Romanian lawmakers care about: giving dolphins the same rights as humans.
The 39-year-old activist politician introduced a bill in parliament last week that would recognize the marine mammals as "non-human persons", on account of their highly developed intelligence, personalities and behavior patterns.
The bill, which will be debated in the Romanian upper house in the coming weeks, would make humans and dolphins equal before the law. Dolphin killers would be given the same sentences as murderers of human beings. The bill would also ban the use of dolphins in live entertainment shows.
The aim of the bill is to help protect Romania's indigenous dolphins in the Black Sea, Cernea said. It would also add the country's voice to a global movement against dolphin killings.
To back his cause, Cernea has received a letter of support from American filmmaker Louie Psihoyos, famed for a 2009 documentary, The Cove, about dolphin hunting in Japan.
But gathering domestic support may be tough in a year when Romania goes to the polls twice, first in the European elections in May and later to vote for a new president. Animal rights will have to find space alongside issues such as corruption and raising living standards and public services in the European Union's second poorest country.
"At this moment, I have no support," Cernea told Reuters during a visit to the city of Constanta on the Black Sea coast.
"This law asks you to make a huge step, philosophically speaking, to understand and to accept that somehow there is another species which is quite similar as we are," he added.
FISH FOR TRICKS
Cernea, who sports a pony tail and beard and wore a dolphin t-shirt during an interview on Friday, split from Romania's Green Party to be an independent MP last year.
His constituency, Constanta, is on a strip of coastline where dolphins get entangled in fishing nets and are found dead in their dozens. The city is also home to the only two dolphins in Romania kept in captivity, both bought from China in 2010.
On Friday at Constanta's dolphinarium, to the sound of blaring music, the dolphins practiced tricks in a green indoor pool, such as balancing balls on their noses and prodding them through hoops. Each trick was rewarded with fish from a bucket.
Cernea likened the pool to a prison - a view that brought a sharp rebuke from the dolphinarium's scientific director, Nicolae Papadopol, during a discussion with Reuters.
Romania had good enough laws to protects its dolphins without Cernea's bill, Papadopol said, adding that the dolphin trick shows had been a source of Romanian pride.
"Romanians have something good (here), and you are coming with this initiative to destroy it," Papadopol said.
(Reporting by Matthias Williams; editing by Ralph Boulton)